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Imperfect Storm

How will suburban passions and early-voting glitches impact the August 2nd election?



Anyone wishing to measure the extremes of human emotion could do worse than to have examined the contrasting states of mind of, say, Collierville mayor Stan Joyner and acting Shelby County general sessions clerk Ed Stanton Jr. last Thursday afternoon.

Or, to be exact, at that moment, late in the afternoon when U.S. district judge Hardy Mays delivered his ruling on a county commission request that he enjoin the scheduled referenda of municipal school districts in six incorporated county suburbs.

When Mays declined to enjoin that phase of the August 2nd ballot, preferring, as he said, to "second-guess" it ex post facto, Joyner was surely entitled to a sense of heady triumph — though he, like most other exponents of the suburban school movement who were on hand in the courtroom, managed to avoid any indecorous public gloating. (Joyner would later have his own problems to worry about; see "Getting There From Here" in Political Beat.)

Meanwhile, the well-respected Stanton, who bears the Democratic nomination for clerk and is opposed by Republican Rick Rout, had to face the very real prospect of being swamped by a flood of Republican votes from the suburbs.

Stanton's regard among Republicans is reasonably high for a Democrat, and Rout has his detractors among his party-mates. But many — perhaps most — rank-and-file party members, whether Republican or Democratic, vote the party label when in doubt, and a large number of referendum voters will be in that category.

Incumbent Democratic assessor Cheyenne Johnson was also challenged by the certainty of a Republican voter flood that would not be balanced by ballot matters equally galvanizing for heavily Democratic areas and would boost the upset hopes of Republican challenger Tim Walton. As for Carol Chumney, whose cash-poor campaign already enjoyed serious underdog status against incumbent Republican Amy Weirich (who enjoyed both ample funding and crossover support), the prospects were even bleaker.

When Republicans swept the state's 2010 legislative races by huge majorities, their party acquired two more advantages that would impact the current year's elections.

First, in the legislative session of 2011, the Republican majority formally liquidated what had been a pending measure to mandate paper-trail voting statewide and instituted in its place a law requiring all voters to possess valid state or federal photo IDs.

The purpose, said the bill's sponsors, was to prevent voter fraud. Critics of the legislation maintained that the number of certifiable election frauds based on forgery or misuse of IDs was infinitesimally small, if it existed at all, while the law would cause hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who did not possess photo IDs to scramble in order to get them. And those who found themselves in that predicament, said the critics, were disproportionately the poor, the elderly, students, or African Americans — all groups with greater tendency to vote Democratic than the population at large.

Whatever the case and whatever the outcome, voting by photo IDs is the reality in Shelby County, as in the rest of Tennessee.

And so, for the 2012 election cycle, is another fact of political life: reapportionment. For well more than a century, Democrats controlled the shape and proportion of the state's legislative and congressional districts. After the GOP sweeps of 2010, Republicans were in charge, and their tendency to gerrymander in their own partisan interest was as pronounced as that of Democrats had always been.

The result, after the Census of 2010, was that Shelby County would lose legislative seats, two in the House, one in the Senate, and reapportionment would deduct these from the Democratic side of the ledger. 

Also complicating the August 2012 election picture was a series of glitches in early voting that, on top of earlier issues with the county's voter rolls, raised serious doubts in advance about the accuracy and reliability of the election results. (More about those matters in "Getting There from Here" in Political Beat.)

In any case, the August 2nd election is on, with a mini-version of a countywide general election and several primary races looking toward November. So here we go with our traditional pre-election listing of races, each with a listing of candidates (the major ones, anyhow) and a prognosis on the outcome. Our batting average on such occasions is pretty good — better, at least, than that of Ichiro Suzuki, who just got traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Yankees and was billed as something of a deliverer. And we do far better in the clutch than the overpaid Alex Rodriguez.

To stay with the metaphor, there are some pitches we choose not to swing at.


The seat belonging to the state's junior senator, Bob Corker, is up this year, and no one but no one thinks Corker, who is what passes for a moderate Republican these days, will have any trouble getting reelected.

Corker gained the seat six years ago by besting then 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., who ran that year as the Democratic nominee. Though in the aftermath of the 2010 election, Corker was cited as a target for elimination on a national Tea Party blog and has drawn a plethora of opponents, none seems to have serious support.

Corker boasts credentials as both a fiscal conservative (he wants to legislate an annual cap on spending) and a foreign policy revisionist (he was one of the first Republicans to call for an exit from Afghanistan) and seems to be in tune with the national mood on both counts.

He boasts bipartisan relationships, and, sure enough, Memphis Democratic congressman Steve Cohen calls him a "buddy."

For the record, he has four GOP challengers, one named Mark Twain Clemens and another, Zach Poskevich, who has the distinction of standing even shorter than the diminutive Corker. Seven candidates, including former TV actress Park Overall (Empty Nest) are vying in the Democratic primary.

Corker, easy. No sense talking about it.


Democrats: The aforesaid Steve Cohen, the Democratic incumbent, won a primary crowded with name and semi-name African Americans six years ago, then beat Jake Ford, running as an independent, in the general. He hasn't been crowded since, defeating such primary challengers as Nikki Tinker and Willie Herenton by four-to-one margins and having no trouble with his (usual nominal) Republican opponents.

This year would seem to be no different. Cohen's Democratic opponent, Tomeka Hart, was in theory a contender: personable, accomplished, head of the local Urban League (on furlough at the moment), and a member of the Unified School Board, who was a mover and shaker in the movement toward school merger. Hart began with a certain measure of cred but frittered it away with lackluster campaigning, networking, and fund-raising.

Some of that is Cohen's fault. The congressman, white and Jewish, does not, in the current vernacular, "look like" most residents of the 9th, who remain 65 percent African American, even after redistricting pointed the district away from East Memphis and toward Millington. But Cohen, who once said he votes like a "black female," would seem clearly to have gained the confidence of his constituents through hard work on their behalf and success in bagging federal grants for the district.

That and the million dollars he's also socked away for his campaign(s) combine to make him an odds-on favorite.

Cohen, still goin'.

Republicans: There's a race on the GOP side as well, with George Flinn Jr., the well-heeled physician, broadcast entrepreneur, and former Shelby County commissioner the heavy favorite on the basis of his name recognition, experience, and — face it — a virtually bottomless personal fortune (mainly earned from his ultrasound patents).

Charlotte Bergmann, who was the 2010 Republican nominee, is an African American but otherwise indistinguishable in her rhetoric from the Tea Party handbook. Her campaign is her job. Not only will she not beat Flinn, she may be up against it with fitness entrepreneur Rollin Wilson Stooksberry, a political novice with a military background and a hard-right stance

Ernest Lunati, a perennial candidate and once-convicted pornographer: Are you kidding?

Flinn: In like — well, you know.


Democrats: Well, it hardly matters, since Republicanism now prevails in the northwest Tennessee expanse where Democrats Ed Jones and John Tanner once held sway. But three no-names are giving it a try: Wes Bradley, a sheriff's deputy from Paris; Timothy Dixon, a sometime automotive engineer; and Christa Stoscheck, a sometime biochemistry professor.

Dixon: just a guess, since he's bothered to show up in Shelby County.

Republicans: Incumbent Stephen Fincher, the mega-farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump in Crockett County, wasted no time nailing down local commitments from a district that was extended due south to take in most of eastern Shelby County. Memphis councilman Kemp Conrad tried to raise money for a run but found out that Fincher had dibs on it all. There's an opponent, "youth offender counselor" Annette Justice, but she, too, will learn the score the hard way.

Fincher has the stage; there's no Justice.



Democrats: Who says the Tennessee Education Association and Memphis Education Association, crippled by state "reforms," have no power? Their endorsee is sure to win this primary. Of course, they've endorsed both candidates — Jim Kyle and Beverly Marrero. Each is an incumbent — Senate Democratic leader Kyle from District 28, which has now been transported to Middle Tennessee, and Marrero from District 30, which has been reconfigured up Frayser way to resemble an older version of Kyle's district.

Kyle has more money to run on and two giant billboards; Marrero has a strong environmentalist record and the support of her longtime ally and mentor, former state senator, now congressman Cohen, whose rivalry with Kyle goes way, way back.

Advantage Kyle, but Cohen's support for Marrero could go a long way.

Republicans: There's just one, Colonel C. Billingsley, an unknown with an intriguing name — and no chance in this overwhelmingly Democratic bailiwick.

Sorry, Colonel; no promotion here.

TENNESSEE STATE SENATE, DISTrICT 32 Democrats: None. You can't get more Republican these days than this East Shelby-Tipton County constituency.

Republicans: Mark Norris, a lawyer and gentleman farmer, looms large in Republican and suburban affairs. He's the Norris of Norris-Todd, which has given Shelby County's six suburban municipalities a chance to escape city/county school merger and set up shop on their own. He is also the GOP's majority leader in the House.

As such, Norris is heavily favored over Woody Degan, a musician with Tea Party ties who is now attacking both Norris and Governor Bill Haslam as sell-outs and spins a tale of how Tennesseans' water rights are being sold out from under them.

Norris, of course — though it's interesting to hear Degan in his speeches heap more praise on Democrats than on Republicans.


Unopposed all year are incumbents Mark White, District 83 Republican; Karen Camper, District 87 Democrat; Lois DeBerry, District 91 Democrat; Curry Todd, District 95 Republican; Jim Coley, District 97 Republican; and Antonio Parkinson, District 98 Democrat.

Colliervillian Todd may have a Democratic opponent in the fall, Germantown activist Candis Schoenberg, who is hoping to get on the ballot via write-ins on August 2nd; despite his manifold problems, including an indictment for DUI and a gun violation (hard to commit one of those in Tennessee these days), Todd will be heavily favored.

Unopposed in their primaries are:

Democratic incumbent Barbara Cooper, District 86, whose perennial Republican opponent, George T. Edwards III, is also unopposed on the GOP side; and Democratic incumbent Larry Miller in District 88, whose future Republican opponent Harry Barber is also unencumbered with an opponent.  

The House primary races are in:

DISTRICT 84 — Democrats: Incumbent Joe Towns Jr., an assistant floor leader for his party, has been comfortably reelected in recent years, though he is often opposed, this time by Hendrell Remus, who calls himself an "author and entrepreneur" and runs something called Remus World Enterprises.

Towns will have more trouble with the Tennessee Election Registry, which consistently finds him in arrears on required disclosures, than with the ambitious Mr. Remus.

DISTRICT 85 — Democrats: Incumbent Johnnie Turner, widow of (and successor to) the late Larry Turner and stalwart of the local NAACP, is opposed by Memphis code inspector Eddie Jones, a party activist and frequent candidate.

Turner has the ties that bind.

DISTRICT 90 — Democrats: Incumbent John DeBerry, a minister and businessman, runs to the conservative side among Democrats, especially on social issues like abortion and gay rights, and he has incurred the hostility of this majority-black district's Midtown progressives, who welcomed the candidacy of Jeanne Richardson, a liberal's liberal whose District 89 was shunted off to Middle Tennessee. A third hopeful is financial planner Ian Randolph.

Advantage to DeBerry, especially since Cohen, who has issued a sample ballot in the tradition of former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., has declined to endorse in the race, dimming Richardson's hopes somewhat.

DISTRICT 93 — Democrats: G.A. Hardaway, formerly of District 92, which was also disappeared in other reaches of Tennessee by reapportionment, is challenging the district's longtime incumbent, Mike Kernell, who in more than 30 years' legislative service in his Southeast Memphis district has become grizzled but is somehow still boyish.

Hardaway, like Kernell a tireless worker, has a chance of finding a new haven in the majority-black district, but Kernell has fended off numerous challengers of all kinds, Democratic and Republican, over the years and will likely do so again.

DISTRICT 96 — Republicans: Incumbent Steve McManus, a First Tennessee employee, is a likable sort whose easy bipartisan relations are balanced by an impeccably conservative voting record. His opponent, Jim Harrell, is proprietor of the Cordova Republican Club and has the support of firearms enthusiasts put off by McManus' vote to help defeat an NRA-sponsored bill to allow guns in parked cars on business lots.

Straight shooter McManus seemingly has more establishment and rank-and-file support.

DISTRICT 99 — Republicans: Incumbent Ron Lollar, a decorated Marine sergeant in Vietnam and a former Shelby County Schools board member, is, like McManus, an authentic conservative who gets along with the other side of the aisle. A stout supporter of the suburban municipal-school movement, he is opposed by perennial opponent Tom Stephens, whose resume is — how to say it? — low-profile.

Lollar earns another stripe.


Republican candidates in these races will get a boost from the suburban turnout on behalf of municipal schools referenda.

District Attorney General: Republican incumbent Amy Weirich, a veteran prosecutor, was former district attorney Bill Gibbons' deputy and was appointed by Governor Bill Haslam as a replacement when Gibbons became state safety commissioner. An unknown at the time, she has fast remedied that defect with multiple personal appearances and energetic prosecutions. Her GOP support base is solid, she is well funded, and she has ample support, too, from some prominent Democrats.

Democrat Carol Chumney, an attorney in private practice, is a veteran of the Tennessee General Assembly and city council and ran unsuccessfully for both city and county mayor. Electorally, she was in what chess players call Zugzwang, a position from which it is hazardous both to move and to remain still. But she still has name recognition (if precious little funding) and this year's most arresting yard signs. Her legislative background as chairman of the Children's Affairs Committee gives her a platform to speak out on the Department of Justice's recent negative findings on Juvenile Court.

Weirich is likely to win going away.

Shelby County Commissioner, District 1, Position 3: Republican Steve Basar, a Poplar Corridor businessman, beat former Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel in the GOP primary for the right to succeed former Commissioner Mike Carpenter, who left to take a job with the Students First organization in Nashville but is returning to work in city government with Mayor A C Wharton.

Basar is heavily favored in his sprawling GOP bailiwick over Democrat Steve Ross, an influential activist and blogger (see "Politics") who is typical of many local, white, male liberals who would fare politically much better in Nashville, the last bastion of the old Solid Democratic South.

Basar should walk in.

Assessor of Property: Democratic incumbent Cheyenne Johnson, a veteran of the office before becoming its chief, knows the ropes and has probably performed creditably enough to win reelection, but she, too, has to worry about the effect of the voting on referenda. Her Republican opponent, Tim Walton, a lieutenant and paramedic with the Shelby County Fire Department, also has enough experience as a real estate appraiser to be a credible candidate.

The expected GOP voter tide could make Walton an upset winner.          

General Sessions Court Clerk: There's an independent, Patricia McWright-Jackson, running, but the reality of political networking ensures that the race is between Democratic interim incumbent Ed Stanton Jr. and Republican challenger Rick Rout.

The situation here is like that for assessor but writ larger. Stanton, a veteran of county service and father of U.S. attorney Ed Stanton III, has numerous Republican admirers and would ordinarily be a shoo-in, but Rout, who is the son of former Shelby County mayor Jim Rout but has had difficulty steering a path through private and county jobs, will benefit, too, from the heavy turnout of GOP rank-and-filers for the suburban referenda.

Too close to call.

Shelby County Board of Education — This is the body that will administer the affairs of the forthcoming Unified School District, whose contours are likely to consist of the former Memphis City Schools area plus some unincorporated areas of Shelby County: District 1: A three-way contest among interim board members Christopher Caldwell and Freda Williams and the Rev. Noel Hutchinson, who nearly was named by the county commission to the board last year. Hard to judge. Any of the three could win, depending on how things split. District 2: Tyree Daniels vs. current interim board member Teresa Jones. Both have good support, but incumbency should favor Jones. District 3: Two current board members are vying: Raphael McInnis, who was appointed by the county commission, and David Reaves, a holdover from the former Shelby County Schools board. The district includes Bartlett and other rural/suburban hinterland in northern and eastern Shelby County, and Reaves should have an edge.

District 4: Memphis City Schools holdover Kenneth Whalum Jr. and commission appointee Kevin Woods are contesting the position in this southeast Memphis area. It pits an experienced maverick (Whalum) versus a promising newcomer (Woods). Whalum's name recognition should work more for him than against him. District 5: One contestant in this Germantown/Collierville area is former longtime Shelby County Schools chairman David Pickler, whose zeal for a suburban special school district is often cited, rightly or wrongly, as the proximate cause of the MCS board's decision to surrender its charter and force merger. The other contestant is International Paper executive Kim Wirth who has served as liaison locally with the Gates Foundation on school issues. Both are on record as supporting the municipal school movement. Pickler will probably win but just barely. District 6: Reginald Porter Jr., a current commission appointee on the Unified Board, faces a challenge from Jonathan Lewis. Porter should prevail. District 7: Board chairman Billy Orgel is unopposed. Er, a wild guess: Orgel?

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